Friday, March 20, 2015

District Court Strikes FDCPA Complaint One Day After it is Filed

An Illinois federal court dismissed an FDCPA complaint one day after it was filed, describing the complaint as a “bad joke.”  Sampson v. MRS BPO, LLC, C.A. No. 15 C 2258 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 17, 2015).  The complaint alleged that a collection letter sent to the plaintiff violated 15 U.S.C. §1692f because the collection agency placed plaintiff’s collection account number on the outside of the envelope.  In striking the complaint, the court stated that the allegations of the complaint were “simply not the stuff of which any legitimate invocation of the Act or its constructive purposes can be fashioned.”  “In order for any hypothetical member of the public “who views the envelope”…to be able to perceive that debt collection is involved and is at issue…that member of the public would have to be blessed (or cursed?) with x-ray vision that enabled him or her to read the letter contained in the sealed and assertedly offending envelope.”  The complaint came to the court’s attention because plaintiff’s counsel had a courtesy copy delivered to chambers.  The court’s order not only dismissed the complaint but also ordered counsel to appear and “explain how his filing of the Complaint even arguably complied with the requirements of subjective and objective good faith mandated by Rule 11(b).”

Enthusiasm for this opinion should be tempered with the reminder that the circuits remain split as to their interpretations of 15 U.S.C. §1692f(8).  15 U.S.C. §1692f(8) prohibits the use of any language or symbol other than a debt collector’s name and address on the envelope.  In August of 2014, the Third Circuit found that where the account number was showing through the window of a collection envelope, the collection agency violated 15 U.S.C. §1692f(8).  See Douglass v. Convergent Outsourcing, 765 F. 3d 299 (3d Cir. 2014).  In that case, the court held that the account number was not benign information.  Both the Fifth and Eighth Circuits have found exceptions to 15 U.S.C. §1692f(8) for “harmless words or symbols”, holding that Congress only meant to proscribe words and symbols that would reveal that the contents of the letter pertain to debt collection.  See Goswami c. American Collections Enterprise, Inc., 377 F.3d 488 (5th Cir. 2004); Strand v. Diversified Collection Service, Inc., 380 F.3d 316 (8th Cir. 2004).  Sampson seems to fall in line with the Fifth and Eighth Circuit’s rationale.

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